Top Officials Dismissed, The October Revolution, Belarusians in Antarctica – Belarus State TV Digest
Last week the state TV channel 1 devoted much attention to high-level dismissals in the Belarusian government and the celebration of the 1917 October Bolshevik Revolution. On this occasion the state opened over 50 nurseries, houses, sport and health centres and gifted them to residents.
Belarusians, alongside Russians, entered the international arena where they will participate in talks on Antarctica. The 6th Belarusian expedition will soon begin and, it is just a matter of time, according to State TV, before various countries will start exploiting the riches of Antarctic lands.
Lukashenka dismisses top officials for failure to implement his orders. State television covered the dismissals of several high level officials for their failure to modernise Borisovdrev – a major woodworking factory not far from Minsk. Lukashenka angrily scolded officials for their failure to manage massive investments directed by the state at modernising the enterprise. The Minsk regional governor, head of state concern in charge of woodworking and a deputy head of presidential administration all lost their jobs. State TV showed in detail how neglected the enterprise was and how much money was directed at its modernisation.
The October Revolution celebrated in Belarus. According to one reporter, Belarus has taken the best traditions and experience from its Soviet past, and cultivated them as a sovereign country. Each year, around the anniversary of the October Revolution, the authorities launch important social projects, such as nurseries, schools, sport and medical centres. This year, in total, the state opened over 50 new socially-oriented facilities.
State TV showed a happy family that on this particular occasion was getting keys for their own brand new flat. The report pointed out that also over 300 families, who in most of cases had many children, got flats as well. This helped them to solve one of the main problem in their life – housing. The coverage also showed also an older Belarusian lady who finally would not have to live alone any longer. Thanks to the opening of temporary shared accommodation, she and other elderly people can stay together over the winter, but perhaps even longer.
New schools, nurseries, sport centres, train – all for ordinary Belarusians. TV devoted more attention to the new facilities opening as "labour gifts" to Belarusians which are to be seen as proof of Belarus' successful development. A new Swiss-made electric train that started operating between Minsk and a town near the city was portrayed as an example. “Ordinary passengers have already appreciated Swiss punctuality, reliability and speed”, a reporter commented. The train is not only for that particular region, but rather another investment in the country, worth a few million dollars. This and others gifts that the authorities gave to Belarusians on this occasion became the object of real festivities for several Belarusian regions whose residents will be using them on a daily basis.
International investors to modernise Belarusian companies. Another journalist reported on the session of the National Council on Labour and Social Matters. The first vice prime-minister, Uladzimir Siemashko, stated that long-term the modernisation of Belarusian enterprises should take place with the participation of international investors. The politician specified that Belarus is already open for international loans. The country has taken a loan from the Chinese investors to modernise and upgrade its cement production, but also a 28-year loan for the construction of the first nuclear power plant in Belarus.
Brotherly relations between Minsk and Kiev. A Belarusian state TV journalist showed celebrations surrounding the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Kiev from Nazi Germany. TV reminded that on 6 November the Soviet army entered the city and aftermath the heavy fighting and a battle for Dnieper, it forced its enemies to abandon the city. On this occasion, Ukrainian diplomats organised celebrations in Minsk. Mikhail Jezhel, the head of the official Ukrainian delegation to Belarus, talked to journalists about very good relations between both countries. In his words, “from relations as partners we have now come to have brotherly relations”.
Belarus is interested in developing relations with Turkmenistan. Lukashenka visited Ashkhabad earlier this month. State TV underscored how positive relations between both countries are at present. It mentioned that trade turnover between them has increased five times over. They are also co-operating in the areas of education with more Turkmen students coming to Belarus. State TV also emphasised that the Turkmeni head of state, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, was meeting Lukashenka as a friend. Minsk, it was reported, also supports the transition of Turkmenistan from a raw materials-based economy to one of innovation and diversity.
The 6th Belarusian expedition goes to Antarctica. Three people from Belarus will take part in the expedition. Belarus plans to establish the first Belarusian polar Antarctic base. A state TV reporter spoke of the importance of signing an inter-governmental agreement between Belarus and Russia in March 2013. In his words, it has significantly strengthened the position of both countries as actors on the international arena. Exploitation of natural resources is currently forbidden there. “But it is a matter of time, you do not have to be a prophet to know that mining, sooner or later, will begin”, the journalist concluded.
How to deal with the increasing costs of energy? According to state television not only Belarus is having problems with energy and heating. State TV researched the situation in Estonia. According to experts, the prices for these utilities have risen by 25-40% over the last five years there. In particular, when the authorities privatised the state company, the prices faced considerably higher increases. This all occurred despite the fact that that the real income of Estonians has practically remained the same. It is rather difficult to deal with the increasing prices, but increases in energy efficiency are feasible. Most of Estonia's energy infrastructure emerged from the Soviet Union. State TV went on to compare prices for the energy in France and Estonia, making prices in Belarus looked quite favourable.
Moscow is celebrating a parade of the Soviet army. Belarusian state television reported on the reconstruction of the parade of the Soviet army that took place on 7 November 1941 in the Red Square prior to the fights near Moscow with fascist forces. In the words of the reporter covering the story, the whole event commemorated one of the most memorable parades in Soviet history. Journalist explained that back in those days, one of the main goals of the parade was to increase the morale of the army and of everyone throughout the whole country.
Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials available on the web site of Belarusian State Television 1 (BT1). Freedom of the press in Belarus remains restricted and state media convey primarily the point of view of the Belarusian authorities. This review attempts to give the English-speaking audience a better understanding of how Belarusian state media shape public opinion in the country.
Will Christian Values Unite the Belarusian Opposition?
In recent months, two political prisoners, Źmicier Daškievič and Paval Seviaryniec, completed their incarceration and compulsory labour terms. Both promote Christian politics and are going to keep on struggling with the regime in the upcoming 2014 and 2015 elections.
Belarus remains the least religious country of the former Soviet Union, with only 33% of its population reporting religion as important for them. Moreover, as Belarus remains a sovietized society in many aspects, the law on religious freedom remains quite restrictive.
In such conditions, building a political campaign on purely idealist values may be a challenging task. However, coupled with good social and economic program and smart usage of modern technology, such a campaign can prove successful.
Paval Seviaryniec: Time for a Moral Revolution
Paval Seviaryniec is perhaps the most prominent activist of the younger generation of the Belarusian national movement. Born in 1976, he joined the Belarusian Popular Front in 1995 and in 1997 co-chaired the newly created oppositional youth organisation Malady Front. In 1997-2004 he served as one of the main organisers of mass street protests against Lukashenka's politics, and took part in numerous political and cultural projects. He was detained around 40 times.
In 2005, the authorities accused him for organising protests against the results of the 2004 referendum which allowed Lukashenka to serve more than two terms in office. Paval received three years of compulsory labour, which means living in a settlement in a remote areas of Belarus and working with restricted travel rights. In 2010 he was arrested after a mass protest against the presidential elections results and sentenced to another three-year term of compulsory labour.
In an interview after his release, Seviarynets proclaimed the total defeat of the opposition and its marginal role in current politics. He thinks that today's leaders should prepare a moral revolution. Lukashenka will be gone sooner or later, and the opposition's leaders should prevent the persistence of norms which exist under Lukashenka regime – theft, lie, fear and threats. The opposition, in Paval's view, also does not fully stick to a moral way of life.
“We need thousands of people who set moral principles above all else. We should respond to hatred with love, to fear with belief, to lies with truth”, Paval said. He regards the church as the most important and crucial center for a moral revolution today, as it has the largest moral potential. The lawyers, economists and engineers who visit churches today can replace the hundred thousand Lukashenka bureaucrats.
Źmicier Daškievič: God, Family, Fatherland
Źmicier Daškievič became another leader of the nation's youth in the 2010s. He served as co-chair of Malady Front in 2005 and took over its leadership in 2008. He took an active part in the 2006 presidential elections and supported the candidacy of Aliaksandr Milinkievič. After the elections he was one of the main organisers of the tent camp which was set up to protest against the election results.
In November 2006, the court found him guilty of acting on behalf of an unregistered organisation and sentenced him to a year and a half in prison. In 2010, before the notorious crackdown following presidential elections, security services provoked a fight with him in the street and soon he received two years in prison for “hooliganism”.
Zmicier Daškievič, after his release, stated that he was not going to keep the position of Malady Front leader, although he would continue to support it. Zmicier, who married his girlfriend while in prison, now believes he has a responsibility to his family and therefore puts the values of God, family and fatherland above all else. He has to abandon his former revolutionary passion and fight using the word of God. “The day of regime change will come, because God has already decided upon it”, Zmicier says.
Religion and State in Belarus
According to a 2009 Gallup poll, Belarus occupies 15th place in the list of least religious countries, with 57% reporting that religion is not important in their lives. Hence, Belarus presents the least religious country of the former Soviet Union. Indeed, the role of the church in modern Belarusian politics has been small in comparison to such religious neighbours of Belarus as Poland.
As Belarus remains a sovietized society in many aspects, the law on religious freedom appears quite restrictive here. All religious communities must obtain state registration, and all public expressions of belief must receive official permission from the state. After the restrictive 2002 law came into force, Belarusian authorities faced a resistance to some religious communities, especially protestant, who are considered “not a traditional church” and are often met with more restrictions.
The Catholic Church in Belarus, having up to 1.5 million believers according to some estimates, also regularly experiences problems with the state. As representatives of the west and potential “agents of influence”, catholic priests from abroad sometimes do not receive permission to work in Belarus and some of them already working in Belarus are forced out of the country. As evidence of such official policy, recently the Belarusian KGB detained catholic priest Uladzislaŭ Lazar and accused him of assisting a spy suspect.
The problems with restrictions on religious freedom in Belarus have even appeared in European Parliament resolution of 17 December 2009, where it urged Belarusian authorities to safeguard freedom of religion for religious denominations other than the Orthodox Church.
Will Christian Democracy Unite the Opposition?
With only a third of citizens considering themselves believers and such restrictive politics towards religion, it would be hard for politicians like Paval Seviaryniec to mobilise society and build a new government based on Christian values. However, that very third of the population seems to be an active participant in Belarusian society, especially among Catholics and Protestants. The 2010 presidential elections showed that the candidate from the Christian Democrats Vital Rymašeŭski drew substantial attention from Christian voters.
Christian Democracy as a political subject emerged in Belarus in the late 2000s. In 2009, the founding congress of Belarusian Christian Democracy took place in Minsk. Unsurprisingly, the Ministry of Justice declined the application for the party's registration. Despite this, the party continues with its activities with its unofficial status. Its activists have faced constant pressure in carrying out their work, especially in the regions. However, today the party looks more viable than its colleagues among the “old” opposition, who became “professional oppositionists”.
Currently, the Belarusian opposition has formed two coalitions ahead of the 2014 local elections and 2015 presidential elections. While Źmicier Daškievič expresses skepticism to them and sees no way to challenge the regime at the moment, Paval Seviaryniec appears more optimistic. He suggests that Belarusain Christian Democracy become the link that unites the two coalitions to lead a joint campaign with a single candidate in 2015.
As a pragmatic nation with mostly materialistic interests and views, Belarusians will hardly follow a purely idealist political platform. However, coupled with a good social and economic program and a smart campaign, it can indeed yield successful results for Lukashenka's opponents.